How Warren Beatty Reinvented ’70s Sexy in ‘Shampoo’
Playing a libidinous hairdresser in the classic 1975 film Shampoo, the actor mocked his own reputation for lechery and unleashed fashion trends still hot today.
One of the ways Warren Beatty’s 1975 Shampoo achieved pop icon prominence was because the auteur was not just willing—but happy—to lampoon his own Hollywood Lothario reputation. But its killer visuals—the flamboyant, glam-rock-precursor hair and dress styles of the time (election night 1968, the dawn of the Nixon reign of shame)—also rated way up there in terms of cultural influence and ubiquity, then and now.
The ladies of the come-hither canyons—Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant, Carrie Fisher—all wore big hair A-frame bobs or layered shags, and what Hollywood stylist Ilaria Urbinati calls thick “Brigitte Bardot bangs,” along with short, shorter, shortest skirts and gold-chain strewn cleavage. It’s the sort of women’s look you can still find on a Versace runway every season, and every other season at Miu Miu or Prada.
Still, the girls were utterly outsexed by Beatty’s Beverly Hills hairdresser, George Roundy, who was based on an amalgam of famed straight superstar hairdressers Jay Sebring (best known for cutting men’s hair and dating Sharon Tate, and being a Beatty friend), Gene Shacove (straight, womanizer, Beatty friend—Shampoo co-writer Robert Towne lived with Shacove to study him), and Jon Peters (Barbra Streisand’s ex, who went on to produce movies, and be a friend of Beatty’s).
George’s clothes were tighter (the most like Peters himself), he exposed even more cleavage and clanging gold chains, and his wavy, sexy shag almost outdid the coifs his character created for his seductees. Beatty’s sheer unbridled animal sex appeal actually surpassed that of the women who played his lovers onscreen (and off). Jim Morrison was probably a stylistic template for the character—the Lord Byron/poet/dandy rock star. Today, we call it The F Factor. Shampoo was the Magic Mike of its time (and Beatty its Channing Tatum) in terms of costumes pushing the limits of male body consciousness/sexuality without the encumbrance of wife and baby at the height of his overflowing manhood meeting fame head-on.
In the 2015 book Creating the Illusion: A Fashionable History of Hollywood Costume Designers, Anthea Sylbert, Shampoo’s costume designer, claimed that in the ’70s men “did, in fact, open their shirts to the navel and hang seven thousand things around their necks; they started to become peacocks, in a funny way to become sex objects. With [Beatty’s] leather jacket—when you touch it, it should almost be a sexual experience.” Instead of using zippers, “we laced the jacket, had fringes hanging, so there was movement when he wore it. Even the jeans—we started off just buying jeans—then we realized we had to make them, to achieve that fit.”
Beatty/George’s jeans were slightly softened denim with an extreme tight-torso vs. flare-bell bottom; the retro kind Lucky Brand, Diesel, 7 have re-created and sold by the barrelful in the last few years—since the vintage ones now sell out for thousands. The thin body-con brown leather jacket, thin scarves, and tight T-shirts, a la Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, “remind me of what Ralph Lauren does for double RL,” says menswear designer Luke Tadashi of the L.A.-based brand Bristol. “It was sort of pre-Ralph, pre-Hilfiger, an all-American rugged rock ’n’ roll classic version of masculinity—in aviators.” Clean cut, good looking, with a rocker edge: it was all very L.A. And yes, very au courant. Rick Owens has been paying homage to it forever.
“I am putting more cropped tight leather jackets on my guys again,” says Urbinati, an acknowledged fan of Shampoo. And clients Rami Malek, Ryan Reynolds, and Joel Edgerton are all pretty game to go for whatever Gucci or Burberry-inspired fashion wave she wants to jump on. “Those are the brands with that ’70s influence now, the best men’s stuff,” says Urbinati. “I wouldn’t quite go denim-flare, but I’m getting into a subtle panel at the bottom of a pant leg. It’s just a little bit A line. Rami wore a Paul Smith suit with a hem like that recently. It’s very Bryan Ferry ’80s, too. But this is a little bell, not like Beatty’s big bell.”
Meanwhile, Urbinati recently styled Beatty himself, for publicity shots for his upcoming Howard Hughes fall film, Rules Don’t Apply. “I wanted to tell him Shampoo had a huge style influence on me,” she laughed, “but I think he hears it like all the time.” As for the ruffled tux shirt open to the navel that George prances and preens in, “Some guys can still pull that off. I want to put it on some of my guys. But you have to be very masculine to pull that off. I mean, Warren kind of masculine.”
As for Beatty’s Roundy as the first gay-styled straight man, British author Mark Simpson, who coined the term “metrosexual” 20 years ago, points out, “Beatty looks like ssseeexxxx in this movie. Too much sex. Excess sex. He looks like he’s been shagged through a hedge backwards.”
It’s the sort of stylish sexy that gay men have always been happy to own (think Tom Ford), but Beatty was the first “Stromo” (short for straight homo) to embrace stromo fashion in a film.
“The frilly shirts slashed open to the waist make him look like a kind of 42nd Street Poldark,” says Simpson. “Not that that’s a bad thing. But the film has a clear moral message: Too much sex with ladies, too much heterosexuality, can be bad for a guy. It’s a kind of effeminacy worse even than being a hairdresser. Being a straight hairdresser will probably turn you into the loveable tragic fop that Beatty is. It will mess you up and make you run in heels like a lady. Shampoo seems to be a bit of gender-reversed Looking for Mr. Goodbar where the [male] slut gets it, but less fatally. Instead of being stabbed to death, he’s denied marriage, love, and the chance to reproduce. Which must have been very satisfying for much of the audience at the time—reassuring for the men in the audience who weren’t getting as much. Which will have been about 99 percent. Whatever the ‘message’ of the movie and the wardrobe, Beatty’s sex-soaked costumes are rather wonderful. He looks like a ladies’ man who really knows how to show them a good time.” And if he didn’t, well, they could always walk away with his clothes.